The recent NATO summit had Sweden’s membership as one of the main topics of diplomatic negotiation. Türkiye and Hungary remain the two member countries that have not yet approved that membership.
Regarding his country’s approval, President Erdoğan presented three main demands: The fight against the PKK, the updating of the customs union and the elimination of visas between the European Union and Türkiye.
Talha Köse, Coordinator in Brussels and Director for Society and Media of the SETA foundation evaluated that a certain rapprochement between NATO and Türkiye occurred.
The SETA foundation is considered to have a lot of influence on Türkiye politics. Several of its authors are members of Presidential Councils.
Talha Köse stated to UWI:
“Türkiye’ and NATO’s security priorities have not converged much in the last 10 years. In Syria, NATO members such as the United States and France followed the strategy of fighting terror organizations by using other terror organizations. They established thus a relationship with the PKK/PYD, which has disturbed Türkiye seriously.
Now Türkiye has decisively put forward its main security concerns and this was positive.
In addition, this summit gave a clear message that the sanctions applied by the United States, Germany or Canada in the defense industry, weakening Türkiye’s defense and causing mistrust, will be lifted.”
Speaking to UWI, retired Lieutenant General Ismail Hakkı Pekin has a more critical opinion. Pekin was Chief of the Military Intelligence of the General Staff of the Türkiye Armed Forces, and during his military career, he represented the Turkish army also at the NATO headquarters. Pekin stated the following:
“Sweden has de facto entered NATO. In exchange, there are promises, but the fundamental problem has not been fixed. The United States continues to send weapons and money to the PKK in Syria.
That the PKK is included in the NATO documents does not mean anything, because there is no institution to complain if the allies continue to support an organization that threatens the territorial integrity of Türkiye.
And regarding the sales of F-16 to Türkiye as a bargain chip: The United States has to sell these military planes to Türkiye anyhow if they want us to fulfill the tasks we already have in NATO.”
Updating the customs union
President Erdoğan also called for the updating of the customs union, in force between Türkiye and the European Union since 1995. According to Köse there are two central problems here:
“Firstly, the European Union has since 1995 signed free trade agreements with third parties. Türkiye had to apply these treaties automatically. This affected us negatively.
Secondly, this 1995 agreement focused more on industrial products. Today, Türkiye’s exports stand out more in the services and agriculture sectors, which are not included. Therefore, an update is needed that better considers the interests of Türkiye.”
Elimination of visa between the EU and Türkiye
Erdoğan’s third demand: The elimination of the visa regime between the European Union and Türkiye. In recent months, the Turkish press reported that it was increasingly difficult to receive a visa appointment at the European embassies in Türkiye and that the rate of rejection of visa applications was increasing.
According to Talha Köse, this practice undoubtedly follows a political decision on the part of the Union and its members.
“Türkiye is an official candidate for membership of the European Union. Despite this, our citizens encounter difficulties. It obviously negatively affects businessmen, scientists and even artists who are involved in bilateral cooperation projects.
I think it is a collective punishment of Turkish citizens when the union has problems with our government.
With better political relations this problem will be easily solved. The European Union should either eliminate visas altogether or at least introduce a much easier and faster process.”
For Pekin, the demand of eliminating visas is not realistic. The retired Lieutenant General points to Germany and France.
“The position of Germany and France is decisive on this issue. And for Paris and Berlin to approve Turkish citizens, a nation of 85 million, to travel to Europe without a visa and control is highly unlikely.
These countries consider us as the other in a conflict of civilization, because Türkiye is a Muslim country.
In addition, we must take into account the latest immigrant protests in France. Europe is not in a process of opening doors, but building more walls on its borders.”
Travel of arms, goods and people. President Erdoğan’s demands touch on very fundamental issues and the negotiations will probably have many more episodes.
Response from the EU Parliament
A first response to the demands came from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, AFET. On July 18, AFET approved a draft report by 47 votes in favor, no votes against and 10 abstentions.
The report urges Türkiye to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership without any further delay, and underlines that the NATO accession process of one country can in no way be linked to the EU accession process of another.
The report does not react to the demands regarding the PKK, but a number of amendments proposed by the parliamentarian aim to widen protection over separatist groups, their media and organizations as well as their political representation.
This position is confirmed with the committee reconfirming its demand to the Türkiye to fulfill the outstanding 6 benchmarks to advance towards visa liberalization, which includes a reform on Türkiye’s anti-terror laws.
As regards the customs union, AFET expresses its support for an update with “mutually beneficial scope, which could encompass a wide range of areas of common interest, including digitalization and Green Deal alignment”, but “insists” that such a modernization would need to be based on “strong conditionality related to human rights”.
Moreover, according to the AFET, as long as there is no “drastic change of course” by the Turkish Government, “Türkiye’s EU accession process has lost its purpose and will not endure much longer in the current circumstances”. The Committee recommends the Commission to find an “alternative and realistic framework” for EU-Türkiye relations. Thus, the committee effectively recommends ending the process of accession.
On July 21, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, Josep Borrell blew the same tune. Instead of the membership perspective, Borrell stated to engage with Türkiye on the “building on common interests”.
“A sustainable de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean would [mean that people can] benefit [from] the stability and security of the whole region.
Solving the Cyprus issue, in line with the relevant United Nations Resolutions, will be key in this reengagement with Türkiye”, stated Borrell.
A closer look towards the West will show Ankara that its becoming less and less welcome there.